Whitney

Why can’t we just let it be? Why do we have to dig, and ask, and stalk, and uncover the private and potentially even more heartbreaking details about the death of an icon? What is it in us that must be satiated?

I realize knowing the full story is important for us to move on, to put it to rest, but in this very sad and untimely instance of Whitney Houston’s death, I find myself simply hoping for people to leave the “rest of the story” alone.

We know she was having a hard time. We know life with Bobby wasn’t roses. We know that a superstar among superstars lives a life that 99.99% of earth’s population will never remotely understand.

Yet we can’t leave it alone. We pry. We check TMZ. We watch Nancy Grace-type “news” coverage, that, if we stop and think about it, should make us all sick during moments such as this. Look, I was just watching HLN’s coverage about Whitney, so I’m in this like the rest of us. But I continue to grow tired of it.

A good story is a good story, and the death of a musical legend in her Beverly Hills hotel room literally 24 hours before the GRAMMY Awards is a captivating story. Yes, of course. But since 99.99% or more of us cannot and will not ever understand what it was like to live Whitney’s life, I sincerely hope we can focus on the good times: her good times, and the good times she brought every single one of us.

Whitney Houston was a beautiful part of creation. She obviously had one of the best singing voices ever. Let us all pause and consider her wonderful contributions to our world. Let’s focus on the good times.

How do you want to be remembered?

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Opinion piece from The New York Times

My friend Chris Hauser, who is an interviewee in my upcoming book, sent this along to me. It’s an opinion piece from The New York Times, written by David Hajdu, entitled “Forever Young? In Some Ways, Yes.” Read the article here. Hajdu talks about a very interesting age connection in music. What were you listening to / impacted by when you were 14?

Merle Kilgore saw right through me

I’m a rock and roll guy. I was not raised on country music, and prior to Nashville, I wasn’t around it much. Then I decided to attend college at Belmont University, in Nashville.

Like many of my classmates, I had a stupid, arrogant, anti-country music attitude because I thought the music was “dumb,” or insert whatever stereotypical prejudices you can think of relating to the South, country music fans, whatever.

Sidenote: Nashville is far more than just country music, but that’s not the point.

In early 2003, I was arrogantly sitting at my desk as an intern at a PR firm called PLA Media, which is on 16th Ave., right in the heart of Nashville’s Music Row, an area founded upon the successes of country music. I answered the phone and had no earthly idea who the guy on the other end was. Merle Kilgore was calling to talk to my boss at the time, Pam Lewis.

Merle, being about as quick-witted as they come, picked up on the fact that I did not know who he was, and he decided to confirm it. We had a brief, super-awkward conversation where he filled me in on his credentials.

As long as I live, I will never forget the feeling I had after that conversation. In that moment I decided that even though I didn’t, and still don’t, love country music, I am going to respect the hell out of it. I am going to learn about it and quit making fun of an extremely important genre of music, both in Nashville and beyond.

By the way, Merle Kilgore co-wrote “Ring of Fire” with June Carter Cash, was the long-time manager of Hank Williams Jr., was named honorary state senator for Tennessee in 1987 and in 1998, Van Morrison recorded a version of the Kilgore-written “More and More” with a guy named Bob Dylan.

Mr. Kilgore passed away two years later, in 2005. I was fortunate to be at his funeral at the Ryman Auditorium, where Kid Rock sang “I Saw The Light.”

Photos: Canyon Country Store

I had the honor of visiting the Canyon Country Store on Laurel Canyon Boulevard in Los Angeles last week. We saw and experienced some amazing things during our trip to the left coast, but I honestly would have been happy to just go hang around the Canyon Country Store, and Laurel Canyon in general, for a few days.

The importance of the physical location of Laurel Canyon, including the Canyon Country Store, on American recorded music cannot be overstated.

From Michael Walker’s fabulous book, Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll’s Legendary Neighborhood,

Glenn Frey, then a callow folkie fresh from Michigan, later said that when he happened to glimpse David Crosby sitting on the steps of the store, he knew he had made the right decision to come to L.A. “The Country Store was like the lobby of the Laurel Canyon hotel, and therefore was a fabulous f*cking place,” says Michael Des Barres. “The residents of this crumbling establishment would gather for their milk and cookies. We used to go there at all hours of the day and night. It was lovely, just catching up with the dealers.”


Jack White is a smart man

I am not the biggest White Stripes fan. Don’t get me wrong, I like them a lot, but I don’t bow at their altar. However, the more I learn about Jack White, the more I am convinced of his genius. And I don’t mean “genius” in some sort of tortured soul, preternatural, indefinable way – although there probably is some of that – but in that he is very intelligent and calculated. Yes, he does have more musical talent than me, you and all of our friends combined (no offense), but unlike most he actually uses it well. He has parlayed his successes into a truly respectable repertoire.

It is refreshing to see a celebrity consistently make good decisions. He has a deep appreciation for history, and that is part of his genius. He actually learns from the blunders of others. Anyone that can develop a relationship with, and eventually produce albums for, Loretta Lynn and Wanda Jackson – that is someone to emulate.

If you haven’t read the note on The White Stripes’ website about their break-up, please do – and consider it a model for how a band should wrap. There are a lot of bands out there today that should have ended a long time ago, but that is for another day.

When I watched the documentary, It Might Get Loud, which delves into the stories of White, Jimmy Page and The Edge, I was surprised to be most impressed and interested in White.

My only personal interaction with White occurred at thee Nashville Airport. We exited the shuttle bus at the same time in the middle of the parking lot. We walked relatively close to each other for a bit, then when he needed to turn to his car, he said the only words uttered between us, “excuse me.”

I’m gonna go listen to The White Stripes perform Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.”

 

My Unexpected Beatles Weekend

I had an unexpected and amazing Beatles weekend. Friday night, while surfing rock documentaries in Netflix, via my Roku, I came across a documentary entitled George Harrison: A Beatle in Benton, IL. I grew up 30 minutes from Benton and was familiar with this story, but I had no idea this documentary existed. I watched and learned more about this amazing story of George visiting his sister, Louise, in Benton during September of 1963 (pre-Ed Sullivan Show) and that the first performance by a Beatle on U.S. soil occurred in my hometown of Eldorado, Illinois, at the VFW, Post 3479.

As of tonight, I have already had the privilege of interviewing that documentary’s creator, Bob Bartel, for my upcoming book.

In the mid-90s, Bob (these are my words) single-handedly helped save Louise’s house that George visited in 1963, which was days from being torn down when he looked up the house and stopped by in late 1994.

Soon I am going to begin work to have the VFW, in Eldorado, recognized on the National Register of Historic Places.

There is so much more to this story. I am beyond excited to continue to learn, and share, more.

Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)”

The other night I came to the end of an exit ramp in Nashville. Twenty yards ahead on my left was a man in need of help. What specifically?, I have no idea – I couldn’t read his cardboard sign. It was a profound moment for me as John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” was playing on the radio.

“Happy Xmas,” which originally appeared on Lennon’s 1975 compilation album Shaved Fish, is essential to me during the Christmas season because it always redirects my heart and soul to consider what really matters during this most sensitive time of year: people, love, peace and safety. Regardless of your political or religious stance(s), the holiday time of year is simultaneously a wonderful and terribly troubling time. Wars and domestic heartaches do not pause nor stop. Homeless men, women and children continue to stand on street corners and sleep under bridges. Jobs are lost, loved ones die and family members continue not to speak.

But there is a hope that it can be better. A hope and a longing that is exemplified and expressed by John and Yoko through the words of this beautiful song. We cannot control this world or the community around us, but we can control ourselves. We can give, share, encourage and love.

For me personally, my hope is in the man who’s birthday originally caused what has devolved into the biggest capitalistic, commercial, Disney World holiday of them all. Your hope may be found there, or somewhere else. Regardless, I promise you there is hope. It is doubtful we all will get what we need, but we can sure as hell try. We all have a second chance to make a difference in the world of those around us. John and Yoko gave us a masterpiece with a poignant reminder that, in our hearts at least, war is over, if you want it.

Happy Christmas. Let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fear.

Crosby & Bowie: Christmas 1977

There are a few pop culture necessities for me when the holidays roll around: Christmas Vacation, Elf, a visit to The Opryland Hotel, any and all Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole Christmas music, White Christmas (the movie), A Charlie Brown Christmas (the TV special and accompanying album), “Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon, “Beloved Christmas Tree” by Kopecky Family Band and Jars of Clay’s Christmas Songs.

Back to that Crosby guy, his recording of “Peace On Earth / Little Drummer Boy” with David Bowie has always interested me. Plenty hate it, I get that. Either way, it was a very important moment for music in the late 1970s. It brought together one of the most classic vocalists and talents of the twentieth century, Bing Crosby, with one of the most essential and impactful writers and performers in Rock and Roll, David Bowie.

The pairing was not a result of a pre-existing relationship. The producers of Bing’s TV special, “Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas” thought it a good idea, and made it happen. According to a 2006 story by Paul Farhi in The Washington Post, “The notion of pairing the resolutely white-bread Crosby with the exquisitely offbeat Bowie apparently was the brainchild of the TV special’s producers, Gary Smith and Dwight Hemion, according to Ian Fraser, who co-wrote (with Larry Grossman) the song’s [“Peace On Earth”] music and arranged it.”

Apparently Crosby did not know who David Bowie was initially, but his children did, so he agreed to the idea. David Bowie was not interested in singing “Little Drummer Boy.” The producers of the show literally wrote the “Peace On Earth” part of the song within about an hour’s time, on the day of the taping, which is the part Bowie sings in the second half. The two rehearsed the song for less than one hour before the recording on September 11, 1977.

Bing Crosby’s Christmas TV special was set in England and the premise behind the skit is that Bowie is stopping by to see a friend. Crosby is in visiting from America and is staying at Bowie’s friend’s home. Crosby answers the door, the two quickly connect over their musical interests and via television magic, music begins to play and the two sing a beautiful version of “Peace On Earth / Little Drummer Boy.”

There are two separate songs here, but they work together. This is called “counterpoint,” defined by Merriam-Webster as “the combination of two or more independent melodies into a single harmonic texture in which each retains its linear character.” In other words, two separate songs that totally work when performed simultaneously.

Obviously tongue-in-cheek, but still important is part of the exchange from the skit preceding the song:

Bowie: Do you like modern music?

Crosby: Oh, I think it’s marvelous. Some of it really fine. Tell me, uh, you ever listen to any of the older fellas?

Bowie: Oh yeah, sure. I like, uh, John Lennon, and the other one, Harry Nilsson.

Crosby: Oooh, you go back that far, huh?

Bowie: Yeah, I’m not as young as I look.

Crosby: None of us is these days.

David Bowie was 30 years old at the time of this taping. Crosby was 74. A difference of 44 years.

On October 14, 1977, just over a month following the taping, Bing Crosby passed away as the result of a heart attack, in Madrid, Spain. “Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas” initially aired November 30, 1977, on CBS.

Crosby is an absolute legend. I am so thankful this pairing was made and the result was recorded for posterity’s sake. When you watch the skit, notice Bowie’s youth and Crosby’s frailty.

After catching the original, be sure to catch Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly’s parody version of the performance.

Nowhere Boy – A Film About John Lennon

I went to the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville last night for the 10:10 showing of Nowhere Boy, a pre-Beatles John Lennon biopic. It was wonderful.

Having spent a considerable amount of time this past week reflecting on Lennon, in light of the thirtieth anniversary of his horrific death, it felt an appropriate way to bring the week to a close.

The earlier portion of John’s life does not receive considerable attention, but is worth a second look. Not just because he is one of the most important figures in the history of all music and entertainment, but because of how it shaped him. The awkward and strained relationship between John, his (Aunt) Mimi and his mother Julia is significant. This film brings all of those dynamics to life in a way that has been validated by John’s closest friends, including the original members of The Quarrymen, Yoko and Paul. Read some of their thoughts here.

If you are interested in John Lennon and/or The Beatles at any level of significance, this film is worth your 98 minutes.

 

John Lennon (originally posted 12.8.09)

Today marks 29 years since Mark David Chapman murdered music legend John Lennon outside of The Dakota Building in Manhattan.

I visited the spot earlier this year and was completely saddened by the thought of what that physical location now represents. Across Central Park West, in Central Park, is Strawberry Fields where you can find the Imagine mosaic (pictured below), part of a memorial to Lennon.

If you get a chance to watch the film Chapter 27, starring Jared Leto, I would recommend it. It doesn’t answer any questions, but helps to make this horrific moment more real for those of us not alive in 1980.

Opinions abound on John Lennon, and today is not time to insert another one. If you read beyond the headlines, it doesn’t take long to realize Lennon was a very, very interesting character.

Listen to his music, watch as much video footage as possible. One thing is certain: there is a lot to learn from John Lennon’s life.

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